For Seyed Alavi, creating objects and asking questions are equally important in his art-making process. For nearly two decades, the Bay Area artist has been working with public institutions to create conceptual works of art to be experienced by passersby. Spark follows Alavi as he offers a guided tour of his art and working process.
Though Alavi produces tangible objects, he thinks of himself as a conceptual artist, that is, the ideas behind his works are centralized over the finished object. Whereas many artists choose to master a specific medium and explore multiple subjects through it, Alavi works in several media. He develops a concept, plans the work for a specific location, then outsources the actual fabrication of the piece.
Alavi has created some of his most penetrating works with the help of high school students. His first such project was a series of text pieces painted under the overpasses of Interstate 580 in Oakland. Collaborating with a group of students from the region, he helped them to develop wordplays that would cause those who viewed them to think about the topics raised. Stenciled in capitalized serif fonts, the murals provocatively announce “INVISIBLE COLORS,” “INFORM(N)ATION,” and “D FFERENCE,” the last suggesting that one needs to include his or her “I” to make the “difference.”
Another project done in collaboration with students is a series of variations on the ubiquitous schematized human figures found on street signs. Together with a team of students, Alavi came up with 17 surreal alterations of the figures. They then painted their versions onto utility boxes scattered throughout the town of Emeryville, Calif., in order to raise questions about the nature of human identity, interaction and existence.
Spark also trails Alavi to San Francisco’s Exploratorium, where he and four other artists have been invited to create installations in the museum’s space based on the notion of “liminality,” the condition of being between states. Alavi’s concept provides the physical challenge of closing off the skylights in the Exploratorium’s massive space so that he can program the illumination of lights clustered in a ball high above visitors. As museumgoers move in and around the space, their relationship to the moving lights continually changes, thereby making them aware of their constant state of liminal perception.
Seyed Alavi earned a B.S. from San Jose State University and an M.F.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute. He has created site-specific installations for locations in New York, Long Beach and the Bay Area. He has taught classes and workshops at the San Francisco Art Institute, the California College of the Arts, San Francisco State University and the University of California at Davis.